Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

July 5, 2014

Saslaw talks Hymes, Chafin and need for support in 38th district

— — Talk about being in the right place at the right time — Tuesday morning I had planned to be in Tazewell to see new high school principal Timothy Hollar and new school superintendent Christine Kinser since it just happened to be their first official day on the job.

On the way, I noticed a couple of familiar faces heading toward the American Legion building so I changed course and was lucky enough to sit in on an informal meeting with several local citizens. Sen. Dick Saslaw, D-Springfield, the Democratic leader of the Virginia Senate, was there on a whirlwind tour of the 38th senatorial/ninth Congressional districts. He represents Falls Church, part of Fairfax, and part of Alexandria — one of the most highly populated and influential areas in all of Virginia.

Both the Republican party, with Del. Ben Chafin of nearby Russell County, and the Democrats with Tazewell’s Mike Hymes, are at full gallop racing toward an August 19 special election day, slightly more than 30 days away. With the surprise resignation of former senator Phil Puckett, not only Virginia but America’s eyes are turned toward this race. It shifts the balance of power in the General Assembly. With Hymes in the seat, the Democrats have leverage and if Chafin wins the GOP will have the advantage. Following Puckett’s departure, the Senate voted exactly along party lines in the bitter fight over the state budget and the Republican viewpoint held sway.

At any rate, I was fortunate to hit town just as the folks were starting to gather and they didn’t mind if I sat in to listen.

Quite a few of the elected officials were there for at least the start of the discussion. Supervisor Charlie Stacey and Sheriff Brian Hieatt got the talk started along with treasurer David Larimer. Tazewell Mayor Don Buchanan dropped by, too, and town police chief DeWitt Cooper stopped in for a while. Commonwealth’s Attorney Dennis Lee was also there for a while as well as a group of local citizens like me who just happened to be in the area at the right time. Former Del. Don Dunford was on hand and he had several ideas about using local energy sources to best advantage.

Saslaw made it clear that, in his opinion, having Mike Hymes as a candidate is a godsend for the Democrats right now. He pointed out that Hymes is a solid supporter of education, coal, and infrastructure, which are all top priority items. It was noted that Chafin, as well, is solidly in education’s corner, so teachers in the group were encouraged about both of those possibilities. State Del. Will Morefield, R-Tazewell, is encouraging in his support of schools, as well.

There was a lot of discussion about the legal situations all over Virginia. Former Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife are both in litigation concerning possible illegal gifts and other troubles, and here in the local senatorial puzzle both Puckett and Del. Terry Kilgore , R-Gate City, have retained legal counsel in light of an investigation surrounding a position that perhaps the Republicans were going to offer the former senator on a tobacco commission. Both sides have denied wrongdoing and Puckett notes that he left his post so that his daughter would not be denied a local judgeship. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., said earlier this week he feels the entire situation is politically motivated so, in effect, both parties are working to defuse public dismay. In addition to the local concerns, yet another Virginia lawmaker, Del. Joseph D. Morrissey is vehemently denying some accusations made against him and vowing to retain his seat. So, Southwest Virginia is not the only place in the Commonwealth with issues right now. And — nothing has yet been proven in any case anywhere.

Back to Tazewell for a minute — Sen. Saslaw pointed out that he is ready, willing, and (almost) able to start doing more for Four Seasons Country and all the way to Bristol. He says that broadband access in every community is absolutely essential. He pointed out that educational opportunities for everyone also needs to be equal across the board, and believes that the “other” party, at least in the state Senate, would be happy to phase out public education. He said that in the 2014 General Assembly, that of 20 amendments to support public schools, just two were proposed by the GOP. He did, however, note that there were a couple of notable Republican senators who also were pro-active in support of the education sector and he appreciated their help.

Saslaw, noting many differences between his part of the state and our local area, pointed out that 25 percent of all the internet traffic in this country passes through the area within four miles of Tyson’s Corner and stressed how important it is  to have that electronic communication ability available to attract business. He said he has been told, for instance, that the largest parcel of “flat land” in nearby Buchanan County is 13 acres, and although Tazewell County, for instance, has the advantage there, all of the mountain counties would, in his opinion, greatly benefit by having increased access. He also pointed out that transportation is such a key to maintaining that advantage and gave a humorous illustration about the “downside” of all that prosperity.

 The beltway, he said, is so crowded now that one almost has to make an appointment to get on the big highway.

At any rate, the meeting was interesting. There was discussion, some disagreement, some consensus, and those folks were all in accord that Southwest Virginia is what is most important. Saslaw said that while he wants Hymes on board, he does not have to agree with everything coming out of Richmond.

It was quite an interesting morning and let me say that both Mrs. Kinser and Mr. Hollar were on their respective jobs and hard at work with smiles on their faces.

Larry Hypes is a teacher at Tazewell High School and a columnist for the Daily Telegraph.

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